Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Japan's Marathon Women Begin Lining Up for World Championships Selection Races

by Brett Larner

In the wake of the retirement of Olympic marathoner Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) from the marathon distance and the announcement that injured Athens Olympics marathon champion Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) would not run another marathon before next fall at the earliest, Japan’s top marathon women have begun to declare their intentions to compete in the three selection races for next summer’s Berlin World Championships marathon team. The selection races to choose the five-member team take place this November at the final Tokyo International Women’s Marathon, in January, 2009 at the Osaka International Women’s Marathon, and in March at the Nagoya International Women’s Marathon.

The only Japanese woman to complete the Beijing Olympics marathon, Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) announced that she will not run any of the selection races, thereby giving up her chance for a World Championships berth. Nakamura’s coach Yutaka Taketomi said that she will spend the spring focusing on improving her speed on the track and over the half marathon distance before tackling another marathon next fall.

Former marathon national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) will run the Tokyo International Women’s Marathon. Shibui, the national record holder at 10000 m, had early-career success at the marathon but experienced a slump over the last few years, hitting bottom with a personal worst at last year’s Tokyo Int’l while running against Mizuki Noguchi for a slot on the Beijing Olympics team. Following that race she experienced a rebirth on the track, a newfound positivity carrying her all the way to the Olympic 10000 m, her first time making the Olympics. She says she is ready to apply her new state of mind to the marathon and will be training in Kunming, China throughout October in preparation.

Although she has not formally declared her intent, the word in the Tokyo running community is that 2007 Hokkaido Marathon champion Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) is also running Tokyo. Kano has improved dramatically this year, with a 1:08:57 PB victory at June’s Sapporo International Half Marathon and a 3rd-place finish at August’s New York City Half Marathon and is likely to be Shibui’s main competition.

Former marathon world record holder and current Olympic marathon world record holder Naoko Takahashi (Team Phiten) will run Tokyo as the first of a series which will see her take part in all three selection races. Takahashi generated tremendous publicity when she made what she claimed at the time to be a serious attempt to make the Beijing Olympics team at this past March’s Nagoya Int’l. She finished in 2:44:18, a dismal result which fueled speculation that her run was little more than a fundraiser for her sponsors. Her announcement soon afterwards that she would run all three World Championships selection races was viewed by many as another publicity stunt, or possibly as a last gesture before her retirement.

Yumiko Hara (Team Kyocera) will seek to make her third straight World Championships marathon team at January’s Osaka International Women’s Marathon. Hara was hailed as a future star when she entered the marathon scene in 2005, gaining great attention in Japan for trying to run with world record holder Paula Radcliffe at the Helsinki World Championships in only her second marathon. She has struggled with injury since then, performing poorly in the heat of the Osaka World Championships, pulling out of this year’s Osaka Int’l with injury, then having a lackluster run in Nagoya and missing her last chance for a spot on the Beijing Olympics team.

Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shattai), one of Japan’s track greats and a strong marathoner, will also run Osaka Int’l. Although her performances are gradually tapering off with age, Ominami was the top Japanese finisher at last weekend’s National Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m with a time of 32:14.10, her first time in eight years finishing in the top Japanese position. She said that while she has run track races at the World Championships before, being a Japanese woman she wants to run the marathon this time.

Hiromi Ominami’s identical but slightly less talented twin sister Takami, also of Team Toyota Shattai, plans to run March’s Nagoya International Women’s Marathon. At this point her only announced competition will be Takahashi, but many other contenders including those who fail to make the team in Tokyo or Osaka, will likely be on board.

Kano's teammate Kiyoko Shimahara won silver at the 2006 Asian Games and finished just out of the medals in the 2007 Osaka World Championships. She is running the Chicago Marathon this fall and thus will most likely run in Osaka or Nagoya.

Over the next weeks Japan’s other top marathon women are expected to announce which selection race they plan to enter, so the picture will soon become clearer. Question marks hang over three of the biggest hopes for the next generation of Japanese marathon women. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), who in the last year has emerged as one of Japan’s greatest long distance runners after making the all-time Japanese top four list at 5000 m, 10000 m and half marathon, announced in the spring that she will seek to run the marathon in the Berlin World Championships and will debut at one of the three selection races. Akaba will lead the Japanese team at the October 12 World Half Marathon Championships in Rio de Janiero, Brazil; at a press conference in mid-September she confirmed that she still plans to go for the marathon at the Berlin World Championships and will make a decision on whether to run Osaka or Nagoya after the World Half.

Teenaged track and road star Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno) likewise indicated in the spring that she would run the marathon at the World Championships, but she has since been sidelined with a potentially career-ending viral infection which her coaching staff has declined to publically name. On Sept. 27 Kinukawa ran her first race since falling ill last year, the National Corporate Track and Field Championships women's 5000 m, finishing in 10th just behind Yurika Nakamura. Hopefully this means she is on the way to recovery, but it is hard to see her being ready for a serious marathon debut even by March.

Lastly, Japan’s arguably greatest female distance runner, Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) has made no mention of any intent to try for the World Championships marathon. Fukushi, the national record holder at 3000 m, 5000 m and half marathon, has long been under intense pressure to move up the marathon, but her reluctant debut at this year’s Osaka Int’l showed that in her current mindset she is unlikely to ever seriously make the move. Still missing the national 10000 m record but coming close in the Olympics 10000 m, Fukushi will probably continue to make a career on the track in the forseeable future.

With five spaces on the team, almost any of Japan’s women in the 2:25 range could make the third through fifth spots. More information on potential contenders’ plans will be added as it becomes available.

© 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

source articles:

Mwaniki Defends, Nojiri Takes First Win at Hakodate Half Marathon

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Joseph Mwaniki (Team Konica Minolta) defended his title at the 2008 Hakodate Half Marathon in Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture on Sept. 28, covering the Rikuren-certified course in 1:02:08. Mwaniki took the lead at the seaside 11 km turnaround, finishing over a minute ahead of 2nd place finisher Kenta Oshima (Team Nissin Shokuhin), who ran 1:03:29. Nissin runners Bene Zama and Kazuyoshi Tokumoto took 3rd and 4th, both clocking PBs.

Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) won the women's race in 1:14:12, her first victory in the Hakodate Half. Nojiri attacked over a hilly section of the course near the 5 km point, breaking apart rival Mizuho Kishi (Team Yamada Denki) to win by a wide margin.

1545 entrants including 218 women took part in the 18th edition of the race. Temperatures at the start were 15.5 degrees.

Ota and Tominaga Take Ichinoseki International Half Marathon Wins


translated and edited by Brett Larner

The 27th Ichinoseki International Half Marathon took place Sept. 28 in Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, starting outside Ichinoseki city hall and covering a 21.0975 km course. Komazawa University senior Yukinori Ota won the men's race in 1:04:26 after breaking from the lead pack with 4 km to go in the race. Komazawa alumnus Akira Fujii, now of Team Aisan, was 2nd in 1:04:52. Kyoko Fukunaga of Amino Vital AC won the women's race in 1:17:15.

Leading a pack of four at the 16 km mark, Fujii launched a spurt to break away. Ota commented afterwards that at this point he had thought, "If I fall behind now it's over." He picked up his pace in response to Fujii's move, increasing from 3 min/km to 2:50/km and taking the lead at 17 km. Fujii could not match his speed and finished 26 seconds behind.

Ota, who anchored the Komazawa team's winning run at this year's Hakone Ekiden, was 3rd at last year's Ichinoseki Half after fading in the later stages of the race and missing 2nd place by 10 seconds. In his first year at Komazawa he also ran on the school's Hakone team together with Fujii. Of the Ichinoseki Half Ota said, "Your placing at this race means more than the time. It was sweet to win and I'm really satisfied that I was able to keep control of my pace all the way to the end."

1306 runners from 25 prefectures participated in Ichinoseki's half marathon, 10 km and 5 km races along with entrants from America and South Korea. Temperatures along the course averaged 18 degrees.

Monday, September 29, 2008

National Corporate Track and Field Championships - Results (updated)

by Brett Larner

The 56th annual National Corporate Track and Field Championships took place Sept. 26-28 in Yamagata Prefecture, the last major meet before the fall ekiden season. The biggest result of the distance events was 35 year old women's steeplechase national record holder Minori Hayakari's solo run to a meet record 9:56.37. Hayakari's record-setting run capped a fantastic season which saw her win yet another national championship, set a new national record of 9:33.63, and run in her first Olympic Games.

Another big moment in the championships came with the surprise appearance by Megumi Kinukawa in the women's 5000 m. Kinukawa, who ran the 10000 m at the 2007 World Championships as a high school senior, was expected to be multiple national record holder Kayoko Fukushi's successor as the dominant runner of her generation but has been out of competition since last winter after contracting a virus which caused a continuous series of injuries and secondary illnesses. Her 10th place result was unremarkable in itself, but the simple fact of her participation, her first race so far this year, is a positive sign that she may be on the mend from what was thought to be a career-ending crisis.

Notable men's results included 2007 World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Martin Mathathi's win in the 1500 m against a cast of Japan's best 1500 m specialists just two days after running 27:37.59 to finish 2nd in the 10000 m. The man who beat him in the 10000 m, Josephat Ndambiri, scored a double by winning the 5000 m the next day. The top Japanese runners in the men's 5000 m and 10000 m, Naoki Okamoto and Satoru Kitamura, were both rookie runners appearing in their first Corporate Championships. National record holder Yoshitaka Iwamizu was absent from the steeplechase, but the race featured a duel between Jun Shinoto and Ryuta Komano, two rookie corporate runners who had some of the most impressive university runs in recent years at this year's Hakone Ekiden.

In the women's races, Philes Ongori, who will be competing for Kenya at next month's World Half Marathon Championships, showed her range by edging out Kazuka Wakatsuki to win the 1500 m. Ongori was also 3rd in the 10000 m behind her World Half teammate-to-be Julia Mombi and fellow Kenyan Evelyn Wamboi, who won in 31:14.08. A third member of the Kenyan World Half team, Danielle Filomena Cheyech, was 14th in a slow 5000 m race, running 15:52.56. 40 year old marathoner Harumi Hiroyama was a suprising 4th in both the 1500 m and 5000 m, while two of the youngest women in the field, Tomomi Yuda and 2008 Hokkaido Marathon winner Yukari Sahaku, were last in the 5000 m and 10000 m respectively. Several top women had tough days, with Olympic marathoner Yurika Nakamura 9th in the 5000 m, multiple national record holder Kayoko Fukushi 9th in the 10000 m after reportedly coming down with a cold, and two-time World Championships marathoner Yumiko Hara was 16th in the 10000 m.

A list of top finishers in the distance events follows.

Men’s 1500 m – Sept. 28
1. Martin Mathathi (Team Suzuki): 3:45.90
2. Yasuhiro Tago (Team Chugoku Denryoku): 3:46.32
3. Fumikazu Kobayashi (Team NTN): 3:47.18
4. Kazuya Watanabe (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko): 3:47.61
5. Hiroshi Ino (Team Fujitsu): 3:49.19
6. Takahiko Onishi (Team NTN): 3:49.83
7. Yoshinori Murakami (Team Fujitsu): 3:50.75
8. Tomohiro Miyamoto (Team Chudenko): 3:50.99
9. Naoto Morimoto (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko): 3:52.88
10. Kenji Shimizu (Team Yakult): 3:53.27

Men’s Junior 1500 m – Sept. 28
1. Daichi Tsuge (Team Suzuki): 3:53.66
2. Teruo Taneno (Team Yasukawa Denki): 3:55.66
3. Tsuyoshi Hatori (Team Suzuki): 3:56.72
4. Kentaro Yamauchi (Team NTN): 3:58.66
5. Yuki Nozu (Team Broad): 4:00.63
6. Genyu Komori (Team Nissin Seiko): 4:04:02
7. Ryuji Ushiro (Team Kanebo): 4:05.86
8. Masaya Takakura (Team Sumitomo Denko): 4:13.85
9. Yuta Izumi (Team Sumitomo Denko): 4:17.19
10. Yusuke Nishikubo (Team Shinnitetsu Hirohata): 4:32.10

Men’s 3000 m Steeplechase – Sept. 28
1. Hiroyoshi Umegao (Team NTN): 8:43.73
2. Tomohiro Nakagawa (Team Suzuki): 8:44.49
3. Ryuta Komano (Team JR Higashi Nihon): 8:46.19
4. Hidenobu Koshikawa (Team Fujitsu): 8:46.30
5. Tatsunori Shinoura (Team S&B): 8:47.31
6. Satoshi Kato (Team Toyota Jidosha): 8:50.54
7. Takayuki Matsuura (Team Otsuka Seiyaku): 8:53.52
8. Masayoshi Kuroda (Team Chugoku Denryoku): 8:58.69
9. Atsushi Shimada (Team Honda Tochigi): 8:59.55
10. Michinori Takano (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko): 9:02.55
17. Jun Shinoto (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko): 9:47.27

Men’s 5000 m – Sept. 27
1. Josephat Ndambiri (Team Komori): 13:41.95
2. Asefa Gilma (Team Subaru): 13:45.38
3. Hailu Mekonen (Team Honda): 13:47.16
4. Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku): 13:47.54
5. Daisuke Matsufuji (Team Kanebo): 13:50.43
6. Micah Njell (Team Toyota Boshoku): 13:51.21
7. Yoshinori Suzuki (Team Fujitsu): 13:51.34
8. Yuki Matsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku): 13:52.07
9. Yoshinori Murakami (Team Fujitsu): 13:54.49
10. Hillary Chenonge (Team Aisan): 13:55.11

Men’s Junior 5000 m – Sept. 27
1. Teruo Taneno (Team Yasukawa Denki): 14:16.33
2. Daichi Matsumura (Team Mitsubishi Nagasaki): 14:22.90
3. Kenji Miyazaki (Team Asahi Kasei): 14:23.38
4. Hayato Ideue (Team Toyota Kyushu): 14:23.13
5. Takuya Sakai (Team Toyota Kyushu): 14:25.65
6. Ryo Itamoto (Team Mitsubishi Nagasaki): 14:29.48
7. Tsuyoshi Hattori (Team Suzuki): 14:36.24
8. Kazuki Yamamoto (Team Chuo Hatsujo): 14:38.72
9. Daichi Tsuge (Team Suzuki): 14:41.17
10. Ryuji Ushiro (Team Kanebo): 14:45.05

Men’s 10000 m – Sept. 26
1. Josephat Ndambiri (Team Komori): 27:35.35
2. Martin Mathathi (Team Suzuki): 27:37.59
3. Joseph Gitau (Team JFE Steel): 27:58.09
4. Nicholas Makau (Team JAL Ground Service): 27:59.03
5. Martin Muklule (Team Toyota Jidosha): 28:06.08
6. Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin): 28:12.46
7. Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei): 28:21.02
8. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko): 28:25.23
9. Keita Akiba (Team Komori): 28:27.68
10. Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu): 28:35.37
11. Ryuji Ono (Team Asahi Kasei): 28:39.27
19. Hideaki Date (Team Chugoku Denryoku): 28:45.09
23. Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu): 28:46.03
26. Makoto Tobimatsu (Team Yasukawa Denki): 28:54.60
DNF: Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin)

Women’s 1500 m – Sept. 28
1. Philes Ongori (Team Hokuren): 4:17.11
2. Kazuka Wakatsuki (Team Toto): 4:18.37
3. Yukari So (Team Asahi Kasei): 4:20.69
4. Harumi Hiroyama (Team Shiseido): 4:21.66
5. Saori Yamashita (Team Hokuren): 4:21.84
6. Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic): 4:22.15
7. Misako Suguro (Team Shiseido): 4:22.70
8. Misaki Onishi (Team Sekisui Kagaku): 4:22.80
9. Chise Hayakawa (Team Acom): 4:22.82
10. Sanae Morita (Team Toto): 4:24.35

Women’s Junior 3000 m – Sept. 27
1. Dorika Obare (Team Hitachi): 9:06.48
2. Yuki Numata (Team Shimamura): 9:22.32
3. Kaoru Nagao (Team Aruze): 9:22.83
4. Yukie Nagata (Team Toyota Jidoshoki): 9:23.02
5. Yuka Takashima (Team Denso): 9:24.74
6. Fumiko Hashimoto (Team Shimamura): 9:25.83
7. Makiko Miyahara (Team Nihon ChemiCon): 9:26.12
8. Aya Nagata (Team Toyota Jidoshoki): 9:27.42
9. Manami Kamitanida (Team Hitachi): 9:27.86
10. Yukako Ito (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo): 9:28.10

Women’s 3000 m Steeplechase – Sept. 28
1. Minori Hayakari (Kyoto Koka AC): 9:56.37 – meet record
2. Mayu Hitomi (Team Sekisui Kagaku): 10:35.88
3. Ayana Tabira (Team Daihatsu): 10:38.66
4. Hitomi Takenaga (Team Deodeo): 11:13.23

Women’s 5000 m – Sept. 27
1. Winfrieda Kaban (Team Toyota Jidoshoki): 15:42.13
2. Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku): 15:43.98
3. Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze): 15:45.20
4. Harumi Hiroyama (Team Shiseido): 15:45.79
5. Chiaki Takagi (Team Starts): 15:46.59
6. Pauline Wanguru (Team Kyudenko): 15:48.22
7. Megumi Seike (Team Sysmex): 15:48.60
8. Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daichi Seimei): 15:48.80
9. Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya): 15:49.25
10. Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno): 15:49.77
14. Danielle Flomena Cheyech (Team Uniqlo): 15:52.56
27. Tomomi Yuda (Team Wacoal): 16:38.72

Women’s 10000 m – Sept. 26
1. Evelyn Wamboi (Team Yutaka Giken): 31:14.08
2. Julia Mombi (Team Aruze): 31:42.92
3. Philes Ongori (Team Hokuren): 31:58.21
4. Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shattai): 32:14.10
5. Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko): 32:28.37
6. Aya Manome (Team Shimamura): 32:46.90
7. Haruka Obara (Team Shimamura): 32:54.51
8. Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu): 32:55.61
9. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal): 32:56.21
10. Yuko Machida (Team Nihon ChemiCon): 32:58.23
16. Yumiko Hara (Team Kyocera): 33:02.27
33. Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze): 35:45.99

For complete results including sprints, middle distances and field events, click here.

© 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

The Man Who Couldn’t Win: Toshinari Suwa Defeated by Coach Kenjiro Jitsui at Berlin Marathon

by Brett Larner

Far from the spotlight of Haile Gebreselassie’s historic 2:03:59 world record run, Japan’s two entrants in the Berlin Marathon, Team Nissin Shokuhin runner Toshihari Suwa and Team Nissin Shokuhin coach Kenjiro Jitsui, also achieved results which were in opposing ways noteworthy.

Suwa is one of Japan’s best-ever marathoners, with a PB of 2:07:55, a 6th-place finish in the 2004 Athens Olympics marathon and a 7th-place finish in the 2007 Osaka World Championships marathon among his credentials and at 31 still young enough to have a future. At the same time, he is cursed: since his debut at the 2001 Nagano Marathon Suwa has never, not even in his 2:07 run, been the top Japanese finisher in a marathon when other Japanese were running.

Jitsui is a true veteran, having run his PB of 2:08:50 in 1996 while qualifying for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics marathon where he finished 93rd. Although he afterwards faded into the relative anonymity of the Japanese corporate running world, Jitsui began to reemerge in the marathon scene as he entered his late 30’s, making his marathon comeback by finishing 6th at the 2006 Boston Marathon, 8th at the 2007 Biwako Mainichi Marathon and a 2:13:38 11th place finish at the 2008 Tokyo Marathon. Functionally a part of Nissin’s coaching staff at this stage in his life, Jitsui’s late-career revival is unusual to say the least. With the younger and stronger Suwa looking ready for a big run against the pack trailing Gebrselassie’s world record attempt, it appeared that the 40 year-old Jitsui was along in a supporting role.

Suwa started well, clocking a 5 km split of 14:55 and a 10 km split of 30:03, but it was soon evident that he was in a for a tough day as he slowed to 15:42 for the section from 10 km to 15 km. He held to roughly 15:45 splits through 25 km, passing halfway in 1:04:55, but heading to 30 km his split dropped to 16:13. Suwa is notorious for fading between 30 and 37 km only to come back with a big finish, but even for him this was an early onset of fatigue. He held to 16:15 pace through 40 km, hitting the 40 km marker in 2:05:54.

Behind him, Jitsui ran his own race. He reached 5 km in 15:34 and thereafter held to consistent sub-16 minute splits, crossing halfway in 1:06:21. After slowing to 16:13 between 20 km and 25 km he began to steadily accelerate, running 15:47 from 25 km to 30 km and picking up ground on the ailing Suwa. He followed with a 15:44, then an impressive 15:27 between 35 km and 40 km to bring him to the 40 km marker in 2:05:59, just five seconds behind his younger teammate and traveling around 10 second faster per kilometer.

Suwa’s curse once again took control as Jitsui sailed past. Against all expectations Jitsui finished 7th in 2:12:48, Suwa struggling in for 8th in 2:13:04. It was one of Jitsui’s best times and good enough for him to win the 40+ master’s division, but Suwa’s time was one of his worst. Once again he was relegated to the Japanese runner-up position, unable to take the domestic win even against one of his coaches, a bitter result after a disappointing year and one which adds weight to his reputation as the man doomed to never come out on top.

Click here for Kenjiro Jitsui and Toshinari Suwa’s splits from the 2008 Berlin Marathon.

© 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

'Over 260,000 Apply to Run in 2009 Tokyo Marathon'


Friday, September 26, 2008

Noguchi's Coach Says She Will Aim For Marathon Comeback Next Fall


translated by Brett Larner

Nobuyuki Fujita, head coach of Athens Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) who withdrew from the Beijing Olympics marathon after an injury to her left thigh, said that Noguchi will likely target a comeback at an overseas marathon in the autumn next year. Noguchi had hoped to return in time for the Berlin World Championships next August, but to make the team she would need to run in one of the Japanese selection races this winter and in her current condition this does not look to be a realistic option.

Noguchi had returned to a program of light jogging, but as her injury persisted through mid-September she backed off and concentrated on receiving proper medical treatment. With her future training a blank slate, coach Fujita speculated about possible plans. "We think that the best course of action would be for her to run a PB attempt at Berlin or Chicago next fall."

Translator's note: Mizuki Noguchi is the Japanese record holder with a PB of 2:19:12. A serious PB attempt would potentially make her the third woman to break 2:19. With the Berlin Marathon reportedly moving to a June race date beginning in 2009 it would appear that Noguchi is likely to run Chicago next fall should her recovery proceed smoothly.

'Gebrselassie, Mikitenko In the Berlin Spotlight on Sunday – Berlin Marathon Preview'


Includes comments by Japanese runner Toshinari Suwa of Team Nissin Shokuhin. Strangely, Suwa is mistaken. He ran against Haile Gebrselassie at the 2006 Fukuoka International Marathon, which the Ethiopian won in 2:06:52 to Suwa's 2:08:52 5th-place finish.

Suwa's teammate Kenjiro Jitsui, a veteran of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, will also be running in Berlin.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Nobuharu Asahara Bows Out to Full House at Super Meet in Kawasaki

by Brett Larner
event videos listed at bottom

The 36 year old anchor of Japan's Beijing Olympics bronze medal-winning men's 4 x 100 m relay team, Nobuharu Asahara (Team Osaka Gas), was the main attraction at the 2008 Seiko Super Track and Field Meet in Kawasaki, a near sellout crowd filling Kawasaki's Todoroki Stadium to witness Asahara's final run before his retirement. Despite the cancellation of several stars including men's 110 m hurdles world record holder Dayron Robles, Japanese fans were treated to a bonus in the unpublicized surprise guest appearance by Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt, who came out to greet fans during the opening ceremonies.

Usain Bolt and the Japanese Olympic men's 4 x 100 m team.

In the field events, women's long jump national record holder Kumiko Ikeda (Team Suzuki) fouled on her first three jumps before finally getting on the scoreboard. She ultimately finished 2nd behind Russian Tatiana Lebedeva, a two-time Olympic medalist and defending world champion . In the men's hammer throw, Athens Olympics gold medalist and pending Beijing Olympics bronze medalist Koji Murofushi (Team Mizuno) was one of only two competitors to break 80 m, throwing 81.02 m on his final attempt and moving past Krisztian Pars of Hungary to take the win. Tomasz Majewski of Poland, the Beijing Olympics men's shot put gold medalist easily won over a field including Athens gold medalist Yuriy Bilonog of Ukraine. Japanese national record holders Naoyuki Daigo (Team Fujitsu) and Daichi Sawano (Team Nishi Sports) each finished 2nd in the high jump and pole vault, respectively, behind world champion high jumper Donald Thomas of Bahamas and American vaulter Derek Miles.

On the track, Japan's 100 m national record holder and first individual woman sprinter to make the Olympics in 56 years, Chisato Fukushima (Hokkaido Hi-Tec AC) easily took the field in the absence of serious competition. Americans swept the women's 100 m hurdles, led by Damu Cherry's 13.07. South Korean national record holder Jung-Joon Lee took advantage of the withdrawal of injured world record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba to take a surprise victory in the men's 110 m hurdles. With Japan's two strongest 200 m runners opting for the 100 m, Briton Marlon Devonish had a narrow victory over Japan's third man, Hitoshi Saito (Tsukuba Univ.) in the men's 200 m. Women's 400 m national record holder Asami Tanno (Team Natureal) was another last-minute withdrawal, her spokesperson saying that she was not feeling well, a condition possibly related to her appearance less than a week earlier at a meet in Bhopal, India. American Miriam Barnes took the 400 m over Tanno's 4 x 400 m Olympic teammate Satomi Kubokura (Niigata Albirex RC) and Estonian national record holder Maris Magi. Kenji Narisako (Team Mizuno) gave American two-time Olympic medalist Bershawn Jackson a scare in the men's 400 m hurdles but had to settle for 2nd. The women's 1500 m saw one of the more interesting matchups in the meet, with 2007 national champion Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) pitted against 35 year-old steeplechase champion and Olympian Minori Hayakari (Kyoto Koka AC). Hayakari came out ahead, but both rivals were defeated by Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku), who ran a PB of over two seconds to win.

Just before the evening's main event, Usain Bolt returned to the track to pay tribute to Nobuharu Asahara. The four members of Japan's bronze medal team lined up in the center four lanes in preparation for Asahara's final 100 m race, joined by student runners Shintaro Kimura (Waseda Univ.) and Hitoshi Saito (Tsukuba Univ.) and international competitors Harry Aikines-Aryeetey of the U.K. and Michael Rodgers of the U.S.A. The full stadium dropped to silence in anticipation of the race. After a false start by Aikines-Aryeetey the eight runners got away cleanly, with Aikines-Aryeetey taking first and Rodgers 2nd. Asahara just beat out Naoki Tsukahara (Team Fujitsu) for 3rd, finishing his last race as the top Japanese. Asahara and Tsukahara's Beijing teammates Shingo Suetsugu (Team Mizuno) and Shinji Takahira (Team Fujitsu), better known as 200 m runners, were 5th and 7th. Tsukahara received medical treatment on the track for an apparent cramp in his right calf, but soon joined his fellow Olympians for a lap carrying a banner thanking Asahara for all he has done in his career.

A short time later the Super Meet in Kawasaki held a ceremony on the track honoring Asahara's retirement. After a video montage of highlights from Asahara's 20 year career, a succession of Japanese track luminaries presented Asahara with flowers and their thanks. Hayakari, in Asahara's absence now possibly the oldest athlete still competing in Japanese track, was crying so hard that she could hand Asahara her flowers and then leave. Suetsugu, an always cool and professional leader of Japanese track, was uncharacteristically emotional and likewise cried so hard that he could not deliver his speech. Takahira and Fukushima gave brief messages of thanks, but Tsukahara surprised all with an eloquent farewell almost free of tears. Finally, Usain Bolt came to the stage once more to deliver his own farewell to Asahara. Bolt acknowledged Asahara's importance in Japanese sprinting as an inspiration to younger athletes, saying that he too looked up to the far senior Asahara and wishing him the best for the future. The ceremony came to an end with Asahara running one last, solo 100 m to a standing ovation recognizing the end of an era in Japanese athletics.

Top Finishers - click event for video

Men's 100 m
1. Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, U.K.: 10.19
2. Michael Rodgers, U.S.A.: 10.26
3. Nobuharu Asahara, Japan: 10.37

Men's 110 m Hurdles
1. Jung-Joon Lee, South Korea: 13.71
2. Aubrey Herring, U.S.A.: 13.77
3. Yuji Ohashi, Japan: 13.83

Men's 200 m
1. Marlon Devonish, U.K.: 20.78
2. Hitoshi Saito, Japan: 20.83
3. Brendan Christian, Antigua: 20.94

Men's 400 m Hurdles
1. Bershawn Jackson, U.S.A.: 49.33
2. Kenji Narisako, Japan: 49.68
3. Takayuki Koike, Japan: 50.02

Women's 100 m
1. Chisato Fukushima, Japan: 11.70
2. Candice Davis, U.S.A.: 11.89
3. Momoko Takahashi, Japan: 11.90

Women's 100 m Hurdles
1. Damu Cherry, U.S.A.: 13.07
2. Candice Davis, U.S.A.: 13.13
3. Hyleas Fountain, U.S.A.: 13.22

Women's 400 m
1. Miriam Barnes, U.S.A.: 53.18
2. Satomi Kubokura, Japan: 53.91
3. Maris Magi, Estonia: 53.99

Women's 1500 m
1. Yuko Shimizu, Japan: 4:15.51
2. Minori Hayakari, Japan: 4:16.10
3. Mika Yoshikawa, Japan: 4:17.48

Men's Hammer Throw
1. Koji Murofushi, Japan: 81.02 m
2. Krisztian Pars, Hungary: 80.67 m
3. Primoz Kozmus, Slovenia: 78.59 m

Men's High Jump
1. Donald Thomas, Bahamas: 2.24 m
2. Naoyuki Daigo, Japan: 2.21 m
3. Hiromi Takahari, Japan: 2.18 m

Men's Pole Vault
1. Derek Miles, U.S.A.: 5.60 m
2. Daichi Sawano, Japan: 5.60 m
3. Leonid Andreev, Uzbekistan: 5.40 m

Men's Shot Put
1. Tomasz Majewski, Poland: 19.63 m
2. Yuriy Bilonog, Ukraine: 17.66 m
3. Tadashi Ohashi, Japan: 17.31 m

Women's Long Jump
1. Tatiana Lebedeva, Russia: 6.81 m
2. Kumiko Ikeda, Japan: 6.45 m
3. Hyleas Fountain, U.S.A.: 6.23 m

Complete results are available on the meet website.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Asahara Ready for Final Race


translated and edited by Brett Larner

Japan's Olympic bronze medal-winning 4 x 100 m team reunited at the Seiko Super Track and Field Meet in Kawasaki pre-meet press conference on Sept. 22. The four athletes, all of whom will compete in the meet, struck a group baton pass pose for photographers. From left to right are Nobuharu Asahara (Team Osaka Gas), Shinji Takahira (Team Fujitsu), Shingo Suetsugu (Team Mizuno) and Naoki Tsukahara (Team Fujitsu). The meet will be the 36 year-old Asahara's final race before his retirement.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Arata Fujiwara to Run Chicago Marathon

by Brett Larner

Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon), who finished 2nd in a time of 2:08:40 behind 2007 World Championships bronze medalist Viktor Rothlin (Switzerland) in this past February's Tokyo Marathon, is scheduled to make his international marathon debut at October's Chicago Marathon.

Fujiwara was an unknown in Tokyo but delivered an inspiring performance in only his second marathon, running a personal best by thirty minutes and holding off Kenyan Olympian Julius Gitahi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) in the final kilometers despite leg cramps which almost forced him to stop. Fujiwara's time in Tokyo appeared to give him an excellent chance for the Beijing Olympics team, but he was reduced to alternate status a few weeks later after Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) ran 2:08:36 at the Biwako Mainichi Marathon.

Fujiwara is training at altitude in Kunming, China throughout September in preparation for Chicago. His motivation to make a mark will be high after not making the Olympics, particularly in light of Osaki's withdrawal from the Olympic marathon the night before the race. A large number of Japanese runners have run 2:08 or even 2:07 once in their career and never shone again, but if Fujiwara's running in Tokyo was any indication he stands an excellent chance of being one of the few to standout overseas.

The Chicago Marathon takes place Sunday, October 12.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Marathoner Takahashi Calls Beijing Paralympics' Combination of Blind and Visually-Impaired Classes "Nonsense"

Takahashi's comments broadcast on NHK TV 9/18/08

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Yuichi Takahashi, 43, originally of Yokote, Akita Prefecture, ran the Beijing Paralympics men's marathon on Sept. 17. Takahashi, the gold medalist in the T11 blind division at the Athens Paralympics, was seeking to win his second straight gold medal and had trained to run a world record 2:30 pace. After running 1:15 for the first half of the Beijing marathon he experienced difficulties and began to slow. Takahashi finished in 2:43:38, faster than his Athens winning time of 2:44:24. He was 2nd in the T11 completely blind division behind Italian Andrea Cionna's 2:36:43 but did not receive a silver medal. While in past Paralympics the T11 class has been scored separately from the T12 visually impaired division, the Beijing Paralympics chose to combine the two classes in the scoring for medals, forcing Cionna, Takahashi and other blind athletes to compete against those who have partial sight. Cionna was 7th overall, while Takahashi finished 16th. Japan's Masahito Niino was the 3rd T11 division runner to finish, 19th overall in 2:51:14.

In interviews after the race Takahashi was vehement that he would be back for the London Paralympics and spoke out against the combination of the T11 and T12 classes. "I'll work as hard as I can for the next four years and will be back for London," Takahashi told NHK reporters. Asked if he had begun to think about what else he will do now that Beijing is over, Takahashi took the opportunity to speak his mind.

"Yes, I have begun to think about it. The reason I couldn't finish in the medals here was that they combined the blind and visually impaired categories. Scoring us against sighted people is complete nonsense.* I want to say to London that they have to restore separate divisions so that we have a fair chance to take medals home too. If they had kept it that way here I would have had a silver medal. There are a lot of athletes including defending medalists in these Games who were denied medals only because of the combination of their classes [with those of more able-bodied competitors]. I hope everyone out there will appeal to the IPC [International Paralympic Committee] to bring back the wider range of disability categories that have been in place up until now.

I remember how it felt to win a gold medal, and wanting to experience that again kept me going through these four years. When I found out that the two classes would be combined I thought, 'There's no way I can do it,' but I made changes to my training and did what I thought I had to to be competitive. Coach Kawashima really helped me, and I'm satisfied that we ran the time we did. I want to say thanks to everyone who supported me, to all the people cheering here in Beijing, to the fifty people who came with me from Japan, and to everyone watching and cheering me on back home. Thank you so much. Next time the Rising Sun will fly from the center pole."

Seated on the opposite side of the interviewer, Japanese Paralympic Team Director Harumi Okubo laughed when Takahashi called the scoring at the Beijing Paralympics 'nonsense.' Replying to Takahashi's comments after he left the interview, Okubo was dismissive, saying, "Well, clearly the categorization of handicapped athletes is a major problem. There is a lot of research going into these decisions and the category boundaries have to go somewhere. The large number of events in both the Paralympics and Olympics is also a problem. Somebody has to draw the line."

For Takahashi's supporters back in Japan, his performance was more than enough. Yokote Mayor Chuetsu Igarashi told reporters, "All the citizens of Yokote take great inspiration from Takahashi's running and hope he continues." Farmer Takaki Tsuchida, 56, head of the official Yuichi Takahashi Booster Club, said, "We look forward to welcoming him warmly when he gets back and to hearing about the race from him firsthand. We'll keep supporting him as long as he keeps running." Yukinori Otomo, 34, race director of the Michinoku Akita Charity Run and Walk which invites Takahashi as a guest runner every year commented, "He ran well in a major event and his time wasn't bad. Next time he's in Yokote I'd like to shake his hand."

*Translator's note: Takahashi used the English word 'nonsense' in his comments.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Japanese Athletes Finish Behind World Record Performances in Beijing Paralympics Marathon

by Brett Larner

World records fell in three of the five divisions of the Sept. 17 Beijing Paralympics Marathon on the final day of competition. The 95 athletes from the combined five classes began together in Tiananmen Square at 7:30 a.m. local time.

First to reach the Bird's Nest were the men's wheelchair competitors, with ten athletes entering the tunnel in a dense pack. Defending gold medalist Kurt Fearnley of Australia, Japan's Hiroki Sasahara and South Africa's Ernst Van Dyk battled for the medal positions, with Fearnley and Sasahara clocking identical times of 1:23:17, a PB for the Australian and SB for the Japanese. Fearnley was awarded the gold in the photo finish, Sasahara receiving the silver and Van Dyk the bronze after finishing just one second back. Japanese athletes in the lead pack also finished 5th, 6th and 7th. Veteran world record holder Heinz Frei of Switzerland, now in his 50's, was 14th in a creditable 1:25:43.

Next to finish were the women's wheelchair racers. Absent from the field was Athens Paralympics silver medalist Wakako Tsuchida, who suffered a crash in the 5000 m and withdrew from the marathon. As with the men's division, a tight pack entered the stadium together. Only five seconds separated the top five finishers, with Edith Hunkeler of Switzerland taking the gold in a PB time of 1:39:59, American Amanda McGrory the silver in 1:40:00 and Hunkeler's compatriot Sandra Graf the bronze in 1:40:01. Italian world record holder Francesca Porcellato was 9th, far behind the lead pack in 1:54:27.

Just behind the women were the impaired limb mobility division wheelchair men. The top four competitors were far ahead of the rest of the field and on world record pace as they approached the finish. World record holder Thomas Geierspichler of Austria edged Japanese rivals Hirokazu Ueyonabara and Toshihiro Takada, taking almost four minutes off his own world record to win gold in 1:40:07. Ueyonabara was just behind in 1:40:10, with Takada, the defending gold medalist, getting the bronze in 1:40:20. 4th place finisher Santiago Jose Sanz of Spain also broke Geierspichler's former world record of 1:43:45, clocking a time of 1:42:05.

The records continued over 45 minutes later when Mexican Mario Santillan, the leader in the upper limb amputee division, broke the world record of 2:31:15 by over four minutes, taking the gold in 2:27:04. Silver medalist Tito Sena of Brazil was almost a kilometer behind Santillan but still broke the previous world record, finishing in 2:30:49. Bronze medalist Walter Endrizzi of Italy took bronze in 2:32:51. Former world record holder Jose Javier Conde of Spain was 11th in 2:45:48.

Just before Sena took his silver, spectators in the Bird's Nest were treated to the race's most resonant performance as Chinese runner Shun Qi set a new world record of 2:30:32 to win the gold medal in the visually imparied class. Colombian Elkin Serna also broke the previous world record of 2:31:31, running 2:31:16 to win the silver medal. Russian Ildar Pomykalov rounded out the medals with a 2:33:27 performance. Defending Paralympic gold medalist Yuichi Takahashi of Japan was a disappointing 16th in 2:43:38, while Kenyan Henry Wanyoike, the world record holder going into the race, was one of two athletes not to finish the race.

Top Finishers - click division for complete results
Men`s Wheelchair Division - T54
gold: Kurt Fearnley, Australia: 1:23:17 - PB
silver: Hiroki Sasahara, Japan: 1:23:17 - SB
bronze: Ernst Van Dyk, South Africa: 1:23:18
4th: Aaron Gordian, Mexico: 1:23:20
5th: Kota Hokinoue, Japan: 1:23:22
6th: Hiroyuki Yamamoto, Japan: 1:23:22
7th: Jun Hiromichi, Japan: 1:23:23
12th: Masazumi Soejima, Japan: 1:23:55
13th: Choke Yasuoka, Japan: 1:24:04
14th: Heinz Frei, Switzerland: 1:25:43

Women's Wheelchair Division - T54
gold: Edith Hunkeler, Switzerland: 1:39:59 - PB
silver: Amanda McGrory, U.S.A.: 1:40:00
bronze: Sandra Graf, Switzerland: 1:40:01
4th: Shelly Woods, U.K.: 1:40:03
5th: Cheri Blauwet, U.S.A.: 1:40:04
9th: Francesca Porcellato, Italy: 1:54:27

Men's Impaired Limb Mobility Wheelchair Division - T52
gold: Thomas Geierspichler, Austria: 1:40:07 - WR
silver: Hirokazu Ueyonabaru, Japan: 1:40:10 - (WR)
bronze: Toshihiro Takada, Japan: 1:40:20 - (WR)
4th: Santiago Jose Sanz, Spain: 1:42:05 - (WR)
5th: Steven Toyoji, U.S.A.: 1:58:37

Men's Upper Limb Amputee Runner Division - T46
gold: Mario Santillan, Mexico: 2:27:04 - WR
silver: Tito Sena, Brazil: 2:30:49 - (WR)
bronze: Walter Endrizzi, Italy: 2:32:51
4th: Guiming Han, China: 2:33:57
5th: Ozivan Bonfim, Brazil: 2:35:31
11th: Jose Javier Conde, Spain: 2:45:48

Men's Visually Impaired Runner Division - T12
gold: Shun Qi, China: 2:30:32 - WR
silver: Elkin Serna, Colombia: 2:31:16 - (WR)
bronze: Ildar Pomykalov, Russia: 2:33:27
4th: Abderrahim Zhiou, Tunisia: 2:35:26
5th Fabrizio Cocchi, Italy: 2:35:27
16th: Yuichi Takahashi, Japan: 2:43:38
19th: Masahito Niino, Japan: 2:51:14
21st: Hiroaki Kajisa, Japan: 2:56:31
DNF: Henry Wanyoike, Kenya

An article from the Beijing Paralympics website about the marathon.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Start Lists for Beijing Paralympics Marathon

by Brett Larner

Japan will field three athletes in the visually impaired division of the Sept. 17 Beijing Paralympics Marathon and eight in the two wheelchair divisions. Leading the team is visually impaired division defending gold medalist Yuichi Takahashi. Takahashi has said his target is 2:30 but will face serious competition from world record holder Henry Wanyoike of Kenya, who ran 2:31:31 earlier this season, as well as from Tunisia's Abderrahim Zhiou, 2:32:52, and Italy's Fabrizio Cocchi, 2:33:20.

Visually Impaired Division - T12
Yuichi Takahashi, 43, SB: 2:39:02
Masahito Niino, 51, SB: 2:49:05
Hiroaki Kajisa, 34, SB: 2:56:51

Wheelchair Division - T54
Masazumi Soejima, 38, SB: 1:21:23
Hiroki Sasahara, 34, SB: 1:29:12
Kota Hokinoue, 34, SB: 1:29:42
Hiroyuki Yamamoto, 42, SB: 1:30:40
Choke Yasuoka, 35, SB: 1:37:14
Jun Hiromichi, 34, SB: 1:39:37

Impaired Limb Mobility Wheelchair Division - T52
Toshihiro Takada, 43, SB: 1:44:04
Hirokazu Ueyonabaru, 37, SB: 1:44:55

Complete start lists for the Beijing Paralympics Marathon are available here. All five divisions in the marathon begin together at 7:30 a.m. local time.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, September 15, 2008

National University Track and Field Championships - Results

by Brett Larner

The 77th Japanese National University Track and Field Championships took place Sept. 12-14 at Tokyo's National Stadium. Nihon University's Daniel Gitau delivered the biggest shock of the meet, beating Yamanashi Gakuin University star Mekubo Mogusu in both the men's 5000 m and 10000 m after having been soundly defeated by Mogusu in May's Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships where Mogusu set the 10000 m national university record.

Kenyan 'exchange students' rounded out the top three in the 10000 m with Hiroshima University of Economics' Samuel Ganga, who set the 5000 m meet record at June's National University Track and Field Individual Championships, narrowly beating out Meiji University's Yudai Matsumoto to take 3rd. Three ace Japanese runners battled for 3rd in the 5000 m, with Josai University's Yuta Takahashi edging out Juntendo University's Hiroyuki Ono, famous for his gutsy but unsuccessful run on the 5th stage of this year's Hakone Ekiden, and Tokai University's world-class but ailing Yuki Sato.

National university record holder Mary Wangari of Ritsumeikan AP University won a slow women's 5000 m over Ritsumeikan University teammates Kazue Kojima and Risa Takenaka. Ritsumeikan likewise came out on top in the 10000 m with Michi Numata's easy victory over Juntendo University's Eriko Noguchi, but couldn't manage to take the 1500 m as Nihon University Kenyan Ann Kingori won by more than three seconds over Ritsumeikan's Hanae Tanaka.

For complete results including sprints, middle distances, relays and field events, click here.

Distance event results:

Men's 5000 m - Sept. 14
1. Daniel Gitau, Nihon Univ.: 13:32.88
2. Mekubo Mogusu, Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.: 13:42.54
3. Yuta Takahashi, Josai Univ.: 13:50.96
4. Hiroyuki Ono, Juntendo Univ.: 13:51.28
5. Yuki Sato, Tokai Univ.: 13:51.52
6. Cosmas Ondiba, Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.: 13:52.39
7. Tomoya Onishi, Toyo Univ.: 13:52.44
8. Kibet Kipngeno, Daiichi Kogyo Univ.: 13:53.14
9. Samuel Ganga, Hiroshima Univ. of Economics: 13:56.46
10. Ryota Yoshida, Nihon Bunri Univ.: 14:04.52

Men's 10000 m - Sept. 12
1. Daniel Gitau, Nihon Univ.: 28:03.96
2. Mekubo Mogusu, Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.: 28:10.39
3. Samuel Ganga, Hiroshima Univ. of Economics: 29:10.83
4. Yudai Matsumoto, Meiji Univ.: 29:11.09
5. Ryota Yoshida, Nihon Bunri Univ.: 29:14.26
6. Norimasa Yoshida, Tokai Univ.: 29:24.98
7. Ryohei Nakano, Daiichi Kogyo Univ.: 29:29.18
8. Masaki Ito, Kokushikan Univ.: 29:47.43
9. Kazuyuki Ito, Josai Univ.: 29:47.86
10. Hirotaka Nakamura, Rikkyo Univ.: 30:25.44

Women's 5000 m - Sept. 14
1. Mary Wangari, Ritsumeikan AP Univ.: 15:56.33
2. Kazue Kojima, Ritsumeikan Univ.: 15:57.29
3. Risa Takenaka, Ritsumeikan Univ.: 15:59.00
4. Eriko Noguchi, Juntendo Univ.: 15:59.49
5. Kasumi Nishihara, Bukkyo Univ.: 16:02.55
6. Ann Kingori, Nihon Univ.: 16:02.88
7. Natsuko Goto, Nihon Univ.: 16:05.81
8. Sakie Ishibashi, Waseda Univ.: 16:07.57
8. Akiko Matsuyama, Kansai Univ.: 16:07.57
10. Hikari Yoshimoto, Bukkyo Univ.: 16:09.67

Women's 10000 m - Sept. 12
1. Michi Numata, Ritsumeikan Univ.: 33:22.58
2. Eriko Noguchi, Juntendo Univ.: 33:28.33
3. Chizuru Ideta, Bukkyo Univ.: 33:56.88
4. Yuko Mizuguchi, Mie Univ.: 34:04.23
5. Ami Nishio, Chuo Univ.: 34:12.93
6. Sayo Nomura, Meijo Univ.: 34:14.92
7. Mariko Sase, Tokyo Nogyo Univ.: 34:24.47
8. Tsuyuki Fukuyama, Juntendo Univ.: 34:26.62
9. Sachiko Kokusen, Matsuyama Univ.: 34:28.26
10. Chisa Fujimoto, Tsukuba Univ.: 34:43.70

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Blind Paralympian Yuichi Takahashi Ready for Second Marathon Gold

translated and edited by Brett Larner

"I'm in better shape than I was four years ago. I'm ready to run 2:30." So says Yuichi Takahashi, the Athens Paralympics men's marathon gold medalist who will look to defend his title at the Beijing Paralympics marathon on Sept. 17.

Takahashi is completely blind. He and other blind marathoners are allowed to employ two guide runners, one in the first half of the race and one in the second. Guides' left hands are tied to blind runners' right hands, communicating directions through subtle movements of the lead rope as they traverse the 42.195 km course. Takahashi managed to secure exceptional guide runners this time, capable athletes he trusts completely.* His daily training has gone well and he is full of confidence.

Takahashi was born June 12, 1965 in Yokote, Akita Prefecture. Born sighted, he carries the burden of memories of the visual world. As a student at Yokote Nishi Junior High School he ran on the track and field team, but in his second year at Omagari Nogyo High School he was afflicted with a degenerative condition which caused his eyesight to rapidly deteriorate. After graduating from high school, he entered the National Blind People's Rehabilition Center in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture at age 19. At the center he learned how to use a white cane and received training to receive skills which would allow him to find work. He studied massage, eventually receiving his license.

After leaving the center Takahashi moved frequently, spending time in Sendai, Tokyo, Okinawa and elsewhere over the years. As his eyesight continued to deteriorate he found himself often thinking back to his days on his school track team and made the decision to start running again. Following the dim outline of light that was all that was left to him, he ran 100 m on his first day. The next day he ran 200 m, and the following day 1 km. It was a long, slow buildup to his first marathon at age 31, a race which took him 5 hours to complete but which was itself just a prelude to his gold medal at the Athens Paralympics.

By the time he was 34 he was completely blind. He settled in Tokyo, opening a massage clinic and marrying his wife Yoshiko, who was also a runner. In Athens at age 39 he ran 2:44:24 to win the gold medal. He expects to break this mark by a wide margin in Beijing despite being 43 with the aid and support of his guides, Yoshiko, and his parents. "I'm running for Japan and for the Rising Sun. I want the Rising Sun to fly from the center pole once more," said Takahashi. "After Beijing there is also London. I want to show that it's possible to keep succeeding even if you're getting old. People with a dream are the ones who shine the most brilliantly."

*Translator's note: Takahashi's PB is 2:37:43. One of his guides in the Beijing Paralympics marathon will be Sydney Olympics men's marathon competitor and Toyo University head coach Shinji Kawashima. An earlier article about Kawashima's decision to run as Takahashi's guide can be found here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Five Japan-Based Kenyans Named to World Half Marathon Championships Squad

by Brett Larner

Five athletes based in Japan were named to the preliminary lineup of the Kenyan national team for October's World Half Marathon Championships in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

The men's contingent includes half marathon world record holder and Olympic marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru, who until last month ran for Team Toyota Kyushu but resigned just prior to the Beijing Olympics to found his own unit, Team Sam, and Yamanashi Gakuin University senior Mekubo Mogusu, who broke one hour for the half marathon three times in 2007, all in solo efforts.

The women's squad includes Team Hokuren's Philes Ongori, holder of the fastest time in the world so far this year with her 1:07:57 win at February's Marugame Half Marathon, Julia Mumbi of Team Aruze, and Danielle Filomena Cheyech of Team Uniqlo.

Confirmation of the team's lineup is expected next week. For a complete listing of the preliminary roster, click here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, September 12, 2008

Rock and Roll Half Marathon - Results

by Brett Larner

Six Japanese runners competed in the elite field of the 2008 Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon on Aug. 31. Each year the 5th and 6th place male and female Japanese finishers in March's All-Japan Jitsugyodan Half Marathon Championships are invited to run the Rock and Roll Half Marathon, the higher-tier Japanese finishers being selected for other races including the World Half Marathon Championships. This year the invited men were Team Konica Minolta's Kazuyuki Maeda, 7th overall at the 2008 Jitsugyodan Half in 1:02:50, and Team Asahi Kasei's Takaaki Koda, 8th at the Jitsugyodan Half in 1:02:52. The invited women were Team Tenmaya's Kei Terada, 7th overall at the Jitsugyodan Half with a 1:12:11, and Team Sysmex's Megumi Seike, 9th at the Jitsugyodan Half in 1:12:25. Two other Japanese women, Team Shimamura's Aya Manome and Team Wacoal's Miho Notagashira, also ran the Rock and Roll Half Marathon.

Maeda ran 1:05:18 to take 4th in the men's race behind Kenyan winner James Kwambai, who clocked 1:02:11. Ethiopian Tadesse Tola and Kenyan McDonald Ondara were 2nd and 3rd in 1:02:33 and 1:04:45 respectively. Koda had a weaker showing, finishing 9th in 1:06:47.

The Japanese women were led by Seike's 3rd place 1:13:05, just outkicked by Katie McGregor who finished in 1:13:04 as runner-up behind winner Edith Masai. Masai ran 1:12:54 for the win. Manome was 7th in 1:15:08, and Notagashira also managed to squeeze into the top 10, finishing 9th in 1:15:08. Terada had an off day, 11th in 1:18:33.

For complete results click here.

Note: I missed these results at the time they happened last week.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Who Goes Where

by Brett Larner

A quick list of elite Japanese runners who are scheduled to race overseas and in major domestic races in the upcoming season.

Beijing Paralympics Marathon - 9/17/08
men - Yuichi Takahashi; guide: Shinji Kawashima, Toyo University coach

Super Track and Field Meet in Kawasaki - 9/23/08
men's 100m - Nobuharu Asahara last run, and others

Berlin Marathon - 9/28/08
men - Toshinari Suwa, Team Nissin Shokuhin

Chicago Marathon - 10/12/08
women - Kiyoko Shimahara, Second Wind AC

World Half Marathon Championships, Rio de Janiero - 10/12/08
Japanese team:
women - Yukiko Akaba, Team Hokuren, and others
men - Masato Kihara, Chuo Gakuin Univ., and others

Kenyan team:
women - Philes Ongori, Team Hokuren, and others
men - Mekubo Mogusu, Yamanashi Gakuin Univ., and others

Tokyo International Women's Marathon - 11/16/08
Yuri Kano, Second Wind AC
Naoko Takahashi, Team Phiten, and others

Osaka International Women's Marathon - 1/25/09
Naoko Takahashi, Team Phiten, and others

Nagoya International Women's Marathon - 3/8/09
(?) Mizuki Noguchi, Team Sysmex
Naoko Takahashi, Team Phiten, and others

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Away From My Desk

Japan Running News will be on holiday Sept. 5-10 as I will be training at a remote island location.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Still Unable to Run, Mizuki Noguchi's Chances for Berlin World Championships Comeback Unclear


translated by Brett Larner

On Sept. 2, Athens Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (30, Team Sysmex) went for her first public run since pulling out of the Beijing Olympics women's marathon shortly before the race with an injury to her left thigh. Feeling that she is not yet healed, Noguchi withdrew from her planned participation in the October 12 World Half Marathon Championships in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

The run marked the first time the marathon queen has shown herself in public since returning from Switzerland, jogging slowly for two hours on the afternoon of Sept. 2. Approached for an interview at the end of her run, Noguchi brushed reporters aside, saying, "Excuse me, I'm still practicing."

Noguchi injured her biceps femoris and semitendinosus on July 25 while training in St. Moritz, Switzerland. She cut the Swiss training camp short to return to Japan for medical treatment on Aug. 4. Noguchi remained hopeful and still wanted to run the Olympic marathon right up until the last moment, but in the end was forced to withdraw, ending her dream of becoming the first woman to defend an Olympic marathon title. Afterwards she remained hidden in the Sysmex company dormitories, declining to appear before the press and leaving it to the JOC to announce the news of her withdrawal from the Olympics.

After the announcement of her withdrawal, Team Sysmex head coach Nobuyuki Fujita (67) confirmed that Noguchi had not continued to practice while injured, telling the media, "It's still too painful. What running she is doing is all at a pace slower than her usual morning jogging. It will take some time before she can practice normally." Her injury has apparently not significantly improved and there is no telling when she will return to form. Noguchi won May's Sendai International Half Marathon, qualifying her for October's World Half Marathon Championships, but today she also officially withdrew from the team. A Sysmex director said only, "Noguchi will not run the World Half. Rikuren has also been given notice."

In 2009 the World Track and Field Championships will be held in Berlin, Germany. Coach Fujita commented, "That might be the best place to get our reputation back," but quickly added, "The injury isn't healed yet, though, so we can't really think about something so far away yet." Marathon training usually takes at least three months, so in terms of the qualification races for the World Championships November's Tokyo International Women's Marathon seems impossible. To be ready for January's Osaka International Women's Marathon Noguchi would have to back to full marathon training by mid-October, a possibility Coach Fujita views as "Pretty tough." Noguchi's only realistic chance to qualify for the World Championships will be at March's Nagoya International Women's Marathon, but at the moment her comeback plan is still a blank page. No return is in sight for the pride of Japan.

Noguchi Withdraws From October World Half Marathon Championships


translated by Brett Larner

Rikuren announced on Sept. 3 that Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) has notified them of her withdrawal from this year's World Half Marathon Championships, to be held Oct. 12 in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Noguchi previously withdrew from the Beijing Olympics women's marathon after injuring her left thigh. She made the decision to withdraw on the basis of not feeling that she will be able to accumulate enough training to justify participating.

Noguchi qualified for the World Half by winning May's Sendai International Half Marathon. In response to Rikuren's notification of their permission for her to run, Noguchi commented at the time, "They asked for a prompt reply, so I told them it was OK to say I would do it."

Sydney Olympian Kawashima to Run Beijing Paralympics Marathon as Guide Runner for Defending Gold Medalist Takahashi


translated by Brett Larner

The 2008 Beijing Paralympics take place in Beijing, China from Sept. 9 through 17. Competing for his second consecutive gold medal in the final day's men's marathon is Yuichi Takahashi, 43. His guide runner in Beijing will be Sydney Olympics men's marathon competitor and Toyo University head track and field coach Shinji Kawashima, 42. Motivated by Takahashi's passion, it is an Olympic rebirth for Kawashima. "In Beijing if I can recover what I lost in Sydney then maybe the Rising Sun will be raised high on the center pole." The two runners share and Olympic dream of a gold medal.

Takahashi was stricken with the degenerative retinal condition retinitis punctata albescens at the age of 16 and was completely blind by 33. Having run track and field in junior high school, Takahashi became interested in running and made the marathon his main target when he was 30. He rapidly improved in ability, winning the Athens Paralympics men's marathon gold medal in his Paralympic debut. Because he is completely blind, Takahashi needs a guide runner to help him, a rope connecting the two athletes' hands to communicate the guide's directions. His Athens victory made his search for suitable guide runners more difficult; with a PB of 2:37:43 the number of people capable of running the same pace available to Takahashi is limited.

In Dec. 2006 Takahashi and Kawashima met each other by chance at the afterparty of a mutual runner friend's wedding. When asked about running as a guide Kawashima agreed quite readily. The two began running together, and Takahashi was soon reaching new time goals, but Kawashima began to have doubts about his suitability to be Takahashi's guide in Beijing. "In Sydney I was terrible and finished 21st," related Kawashima. "I knew Takahashi was targeting the gold medal, so I didn't know if I was the right person to be his race guide." He went to talk to the blind runner.

In that conversation Takahashi told him, "Coach, you left something behind in Sydney. Don't you want to get it now?" The strength of defending gold medalist Takahashi's zeal for a medal in Beijing washed through the medalless Kawashima and touched him deeply. "Although I can't run freely like when I'm alone, I think that if you run at all you learn to know yourself better than other people do. Running as the guide for someone who seriously intends to win will help me learn my own depth."

Takahashi found himself a strong guide runner. Kawashima found a chance to redeem himself for Sydney and something which changed his life. "If I'd just kept going by myself I would most likely have quit running." The two men will have a chance to shine together under the Beijing skies on Sept. 17.


The first group of 106 of the Japanese athletes participating in the Beijing Paralympics left for China on Aug. 30. The total 162 athletes on the Japanese will compete in 17 of the 20 Paralympic events.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Olympic 4x100m Relay Anchor Asahara Tells Company Supporters "The Baton's Whereabouts Are Unknown. Somebody Please Find It."


translated by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics men's 4 x 100 m relay bronze medal winner Nobuharu Asahara (36, Team Osaka Gas) appeared at a press conference at Osaka Gas' head office on Sept. 1, joyfully telling reporters, "It was 10 seconds of the purest satisfaction in my life, my greatest Olympics."*

After watching the race again on a large screen at the press conference, Asahara spoke to the packed crowd of over 500 Osaka Gas employees and journalists. Asked about the widely-televised scene of Asahara throwing the team's baton into the air in joy the moment the results appeared and Japan's bronze medal was secured, he laughingly appealed to the public, saying "[Japan's gold-medal] softball team's winning ball came back with them, but the baton's whereabouts are unknown. If somebody finds it please get in touch."

*Translator's note: Asahara is a four-time Olympian.

Monday, September 1, 2008

High School Teacher and Teenager Win Hokkaido Marathon

by Brett Larner

The 2008 Hokkaido Marathon saw suprise winners in both the men's and women's races, with retired professional runner turned high school teacher Masaru Takamizawa running a PB of 2:12:10 in the heat to take the men's win and tiny 19 year-old Yukari Sahaku, a disciple of Naoko Takahashi's former coach Yoshio Koide, running to victory with a 2:31:50 marathon debut.

Takamizawa, 27, is a former member of Team Nissin Shokuhin and a graduate of Yamanashi Gakuin University where he ran the Hakone Ekiden's second stage, its most competitive. In March this year he retired from the jitsugyodan world to take a job teaching information technology at Nagano's Saku Chosei High School, which he had attended as a student. Not coincidentally Saku Chosei is one of Japan's top running high schools, and Takamizawa also took on duties as an assistant coach for the school's ekiden team under his own high school-era head coach Hayashi Morozumi. Since taking the job he has done most of his training with the high school team, adding long runs on his own. At last year's Hokkaido Marathon, Takamizawa came from behind in his debut marathon, catching breakaway leader Tadashi Shitamori and Kenyan Ombeche Mokamba late in the race to finish 2nd behind his former Nissin teammate, Kenyan Julius Gitahi. Takamizawa began 2008 with a PB of 2:14:57 in perfect conditions at the Tokyo Marathon. Two months later he ran the Nagano Marathon, making Hokkaido his third marathon of the year.

Despite temperatures of 27 degrees at the start and over 30 degrees at the finish, Takamizawa ran assertively right from the gun, running at the front of a pack which included Gitahi, 2:08 Nissin ace Yuzo Onishi, two-time Kenyan Olympic marathon medalist Erick Wainaina, invited runner Richard Maiyo, a cohort of top younger Japanese marathoners, and, in his marathon debut, former Juntendo University Hakone Ekiden star runner Masato Imai. Wearing a Saku Chosei singlet which prompted announcers to repeatedly remind viewers that he was a teacher and not a student, Takamizawa made his first move at 15 km, opening a slight gap which strung out the leading pack. Maiyo responded with a 2:53 km which put him in the lead at 16 km, but it was clearly too much and he began to struggle. By 20 km Takamizawa was back in front, progressively widening his lead all the way to the finish. At 25 km he was nearly a minute ahead of the chase pack. Gitahi and 2008 Nobeoka Marathon winner Tomoya Shimizu of Team Asahi Kasei picked up their pace to pursue the runaway leader, but at the 28.7 km turnaround Takamizawa's lead had lengthened to 61 seconds. At 30 km he was 15 seconds ahead of course record pace, but with temperatures rising in the final 10 km it was all he could do to hold his pace and avoid a replay of Shitamori's run in last year's race.

Garnering announcers' comparisons to Olympic women's marathon gold medalist Constantina Tomescu, Takamizawa's gamble paid off as he finished with a PB of two and a half minutes and the third-fastest time ever run on the Hokkaido course, beating runner-up Kentaro Nakamoto by over three minutes with Shimizu close behind in third. For the latter two athletes it was a reversal of their results from this year's Nobeoka Marathon, which Shimizu won with Nakamoto 3rd in his marathon debut. Takamizawa said afterwards that he had hoped to run 2:11 but was satisfied with his performance and hoped that it would be a source of motivation for Saku Chosei's ekiden team in the upcoming fall season.

In the women's race, 19 year-old Yukari Sahaku defeated her training partner, 20 year-old Hitomi Niiya, in Sahaku's marathon debut. Both runners are coached by Yoshio Koide, who also coached Naoko Takahashi to the first sub-2:20 women's marathon and an Olympic marathon gold medal. In a televised interview Koide described Sahaku as an extremely strong athlete and one who loves to practice. He said he expected her to follow the leaders until 35 km and then take off. Just 143 cm tall and weighing 32 kg, Sahaku looked remarkably like a junior high school boy. Koide commented that during the peak of her training in July Sahaku's weight had fallen to 28 kg, but that he had intervened to make sure she ate more to be back to a healthier weight in time for Hokkaido.

Niiya debuted at age 18 at the 2007 Tokyo Marathon with a 2:31:01 win and hoped to make this year's Hokkaido a breakthrough in the leadup to the 2009 Berlin World Championships. After a reasonable 17:36 first 5 km split led by Kenyan Alice Chelangat, Niiya attacked with a 33:39 split for the 10 km from 5 to 15 km, just under 2:22 pace and well ahead of the course record despite the heat. 2006 Hokkaido winner Kaori Yoshida was the first to let go of the lead pack, followed in turn by Team Tenmaya's Mika Hikichi and then Chelangat. After the halfway mark the race was down to just Niiya and Sahaku, accompanied by a group of male runners. As in Niiya's Tokyo debut, these male runners included teammates who acted as pacemakers and handed her drinks and sponges.

In the second half of the race the pace began to slow, with Niiya beginning to show signs of stress after the 28 km. At 28.6 km Sahaku moved up next to Niiya for the first time, attacking as the two rounded the 28.7 km turnaround point and opening up a gap. Despite slowing 5 km splits Sahaku continued to pull away from her training partner as Niiya began to pay the price for her early high pace, clocking 3:52 for the 32nd km. Sahaku continued to appear relaxed and collected all the way to the finish, but she too slowed to nearly 4 min per km pace in the final 5 km of the race. Niiya in her turn rallied, making up nearly 30 seconds on Sahaku's lead but unable to fully bridge the gap. Sahaku won in 2:31:50 with Niiya 2nd in 2:32:18. Apparent early casualty Kaori Yoshida showed that experience counts too as by letting go of the lead pack early on she was able to pick up stragglers Hikichi and Chelangat later in the race to finish 3rd in 2:33:36.

For the IAAF's report on the Hokkaido Marathon, click here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved